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Choosing the right travel companion 07.12.2022

More and more people are fulfilling their dream of owning a motor home. Camper van travel is definitely in vogue, as the simplicity of being and proximity to nature are great antidotes to the daily grind; however, the sheer variety of vehicles on offer can be confusing. To stop the dream from becoming a nightmare, it’s important to consider certain things before buying.

Deciding whether van life is the right choice

Before going into the details of the individual van types, you should ask yourself whether van life is really suitable for your holiday needs. Or are you just following the latest trend? When you think of campsites and enjoying dinner under a starry sky, does it bring back childhood memories? What is your motivation for buying a camper van? It’s important to ask yourself questions like these before buying what can be a costly travel companion. To be on the safe side, it’s worth renting a camper van for your first few trips and holidays. This means you get to try out a range of models, and you’ll quickly realise whether you’re really cut out for living in a confined space. Thanks to the boom that van life is enjoying, there are now many good rental vehicle providers willing to share their expertise with customers.



Checklist to help you choose the right camper van

Once you’ve decided to purchase your own camper van, there are several things to consider before buying. It’s important to decide what your comfort needs are. And where, when and how the vehicle will be used. Here’s a checklist to help you make your choice:


1. Type of use and length of trip

One of the first questions you should ask yourself when choosing a camper van, and its equipment and appointments, is: “Where will I use the vehicle and for how long?” Your choice will depend on whether you need the vehicle for a week in sunny Italy a couple of times a year, a three-month tour of Scandinavia or a round-the-world voyage, for example. Here, you need to consider the temperature in your destination country, but also whether you want to drive off-road, which means you’ll need all-wheel drive and higher ground clearance. And would you prefer to stay on smaller, more rustic campsites or larger sites with a well-developed infrastructure? These are all key factors to take into account when deciding on the size and fit-out of your future camper van.

You should therefore be clear about the following aspects before buying a camper van:

  • Temperature in your destination country/countries
  • Degree of self-sufficiency you want
  • Quality of the roads on your travel routes
  • Your preferred type of campsite


2. Everyday vehicle or second vehicle

Many people who own a small camper bus use it as both a camper van and an everyday vehicle for doing the shopping, playing sport, going skiing, etc. If you want to use the vehicle as more than just a camper van, it’s important to bear this in mind when deciding what to buy, as you will certainly have to make more compromises than you would if you were buying an “out-and-out camper”. If you’re looking for a camper van that you can also use as an everyday vehicle, you should therefore choose a model that easily converts into a camper van without you having to compromise too much on sleeping comfort during your trips.



3. Funds

Another central question is how much you want to and can afford to spend on a camper van – the prices vary hugely! Here, it’s important to factor in not only the actual purchase cost when making your decision, but also other things such as:

  • Amount of conversion work still required
  • Vehicle maintenance, including the cost of spare parts
  • Insurance – dependent on the vehicle size and type
  • Fuel consumption
  • Taxes
  • Parking costs


It’s also important to remember that, even if the vehicle is not used that often, it still needs regular maintenance, and you still have to pay insurance premiums and taxes. Another key factor is finding a safe and, if possible, covered place to park the vehicle in order to maximise its useful life. If you have another vehicle and want to cut costs after purchasing a camper van, you should look at the option of using the same licence plates for both vehicles. If you use the camper van at certain times of year only, you should check whether it’s possible to deposit the licence plates with the local authority when the vehicle is not in use. 


4. Self-build conversion versus ready-made camper van

Fitting out your vehicle exactly how you want it may seem like an exciting and satisfying proposition initially, but it can very quickly become a source of frustration if you don’t possess the necessary knowledge and skills. The process involved – from coming up with initial ideas to planning to actually converting the vehicle – is a lengthy one and must be viewed as a means to an end. This process has become even more arduous since the pandemic – due to longer delivery times for raw materials and non-available spare parts. If you’re not sure whether you want to go through all this, it’s probably better to buy the finished vehicle or enlist the help of an expert to convert the vehicle for you.


5. Equipment and appointments

Before purchasing a camper van, you should also define what you need in terms of equipment, appointments, luxury and comfort. Do you want a large bed or more space for cooking? Do you want to be self-sufficient for as long as possible? Do you want a larger vehicle with shower and toilet or a smaller vehicle with fewer home comforts? Being aware of your needs will answer many of the questions regarding the necessary equipment and appointments. Here, too, it’s not a bad idea to rent and try out various models before deciding what to buy. Features that initially seem unnecessary may actually turn out to be must-haves during longer trips or in bad weather. If you decide against an on-board toilet or an auxiliary heater, you may quickly regret this when the weather turns cold and it starts snowing. So you shouldn’t underestimate your comfort needs. And you should find out all you can about future conversion options.



6. Vehicle size

Once you’ve defined the equipment and appointments you need, you should have some idea about the size of vehicle required; the more comfort and self-sufficiency you want, the bigger your travel companion will have to be. It’s important to remember that you need a C1 licence to drive a vehicle weighing over 3.5 tonnes and even a truck licence (Category C) if the vehicle weighs over 7.5 tonnes. You should therefore think long and hard about your must-haves and nice-to-haves. Another factor to consider when looking at vehicle size is standing room. If you intend to use the camper van mostly for sleeping, you won’t necessarily need to stand up inside the vehicle, meaning that you can choose a lower model; this also makes it easier to drive under underpasses or into underground car parks, thus avoiding any nasty surprises during your trip – old railway underpasses, in particular, often have just 3.5 metres of headroom at the very most. Pop-up roofs and awnings are ideal compromises, as they can be set up quickly after arrival at the campsite to create more living and sleeping space.


7. Number of travellers

Another important aspect to consider when choosing your vehicle is the number of people who will be travelling and sleeping on board, particularly in the case of families. If you’re thinking of purchasing a camper van for family holidays, or even for longer trips with the family, there are a couple of other factors to take into account in addition to those mentioned above. Remember that children grow up fast. And think about what a new arrival in the family would mean. Whereas travelling with a small child can be relatively easy, having three pubescent teenagers with you can be a different matter entirely. It may therefore be important to establish mini safe havens inside the camper van, despite the limited space, where everyone can be by themselves for a while, or to install modular furnishings that can be adapted to the ages of the children. When travelling with the whole family, the amount of luggage shouldn’t be underestimated, either – everyone has their own suitcase, you need more food and drink, and you require more space to stow sports and leisure items. That’s a lot of weight and bulk, meaning that a small or medium-size vehicle can quickly become too cramped – in which case you may need to consider a small truck in order to meet all your needs.




When choosing a “home on wheels”, you should definitely take your time – as this is the best way to ensure long-term enjoyment of this exciting and adventurous form of travel. If you’re visiting the Swiss Caravan Salon in Bern between 27 and 31 October 2022, there will be no shortage of exhibitors happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

Highlight "Freedom on four wheels" in hall 3 and 4

Many have discovered or rediscovered nature and the joys of leisurely life on the road in recent years. Holidaying in one’s own camper van is “in” with the Swiss – be it a camper trip in Alaska or van life as a digital nomad.

FESPO is adopting the “Freedom on four wheels” theme to shine the spotlight on mobile travel. In the Van Life and All-wheel-drive Adventure Camp, manufacturers present a variety of camper vans, while visitors can test proven mobile travel products. In addition, fascinating talks provide a wealth of insider tips on choosing the right vehicle. Seasoned travellers and bloggers will also be there, recounting their experiences all over the world. Another highlight: during all days of the fair, savoury and sweet dishes from the Omnia oven can be tested at Campers Paradise in the Travel Adventure Camp.



Vanlifers and experts at FESPO

Globetrotter and engineer Thorleif

 - Globetrotter and engineer Thorleif

Thorleif can relax and recharge his batteries in the tranquillity of nature, far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, within his own four walls. Having topped up the water and diesel tanks and packed enough provisions, he loves being self-sufficient in his self-converted pickup. During his travels together with Simone, he has gained a wealth of experience in how to be organised within a small space without compromising on comfort. In future, the pair would like to travel for longer, get to know new cultures and not be tied to any particular place. That’s why, in summer 2021, they bought a 1995-built fire engine that they intend to convert into an expedition vehicle in the coming years.


Travel journalist and photographer Christian

 - Travel journalist and photographer Christian

Christian first boarded a plane when he was three years old and didn’t return from abroad with his parents until seven years later. Since then, he’s actually spent more time far away than at home. So it’s hardly surprising that, after trying a few other jobs, he was drawn to travel journalism and photography. Christian has now been travelling from the Antarctic to Ascona and from Mosnang to Mongolia for over 10 years – by plane, car, train and van as well as often on foot as a pilgrim. He recounts his experiences in lively travel articles and also paints pictures to capture specific moments on his travels.


Comewithus2 – Lui and Steffi

 - Comewithus2 – Lui and Steffi

Lui and Steffi have been on the road in a camper van for over six years. Hailing from Thurgau in Eastern Switzerland, the two have visited 45 of the 47 countries in Europe and also published five camping books. As well as being authors, the couple give talks, have their own YouTube channel and, whenever possible, hit the roads of Europe, where they are accompanied by Maja – a former mail bus that Steffi single-handedly transformed into a jewel on wheels. The pair most like travelling in the Balkans. “There, you’re still a guest rather than a tourist, so it’s particularly enjoyable to travel round a country like Albania,” enthuses Lui.

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Offroad Travelers – Chris and Conny

 - Offroad Travelers – Chris and Conny

Conny (42) and Chris (45) have visited 36 countries in their expedition vehicles during the last eight years, taking in Europe, North America and Central America. They most like travelling to areas well off the beaten tourist track, as that’s where they get the best impression of a country’s hospitality and traditions. The places they hope to find are not usually mentioned in any of the travel guides. That’s why they both avoid reading stacks of travel books, relying instead on their intuition, the aim being to travel around as much of the world as possible. The much-travelled duo don’t decide where to go next until a few days prior to departure, only to change their plans again just before they leave!

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Whaleontrail – Susanna and Martin

 - Whaleontrail – Susanna and Martin

It’s astonishing how much Susanna and Martin can pack into their old camper van – mountain bikes, snowboards, camping gear, climbing gear, surfboards and heavy camera equipment. The couple like nothing more than discovering a foreign country through its passions. In 2018, they therefore set out to get a little closer to the world together with Don the Whale, a self-converted Mercedes Sprinter. They spent two years on the road from Alaska to Guatemala before being forced home abruptly due to the coronavirus lockdown. Now back in Switzerland, they are using the time to recount their experiences by showing their most beautiful photos. They will be shipping Don across the Atlantic again in the foreseeable future.

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Take the path – Barbara and Roger

 - Take the path – Barbara and Roger

Barbara and Roger spent 550 days travelling through Europe and Asia in their T6 VW California. In spring 2021, the couple’s journey took them to the far north up to the North Cape via the Baltic states and Finland. They spent the majority of the winter in Greece, or rather on Crete, where they worked in an olive grove to become more immersed in Cretan life. The two continued further and further east when spring arrived, travelling through Turkey and Georgia before reaching the turning point in Armenia. They completed their incredible voyage by exploring Eastern Europe and Sardinia. The couple have recorded their experiences on their travel blog and YouTube channel.

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